Thursday, 7 April 2011

Prophetic Witness

"And he has spoken through the Prophets" - The Nicene Creed

Prophetic Witness is something that we are always called to. 

It is not something that imperfect man can do at all times but it is something we must always be open to the opportunity for.  Fundamentally it is describing the nature of God to a world that does not know him, and relating this nature precisely and practically to our present world.  It is the meaning of the Kingdom of God and the saving of our troubled world.

As I start it is important to say what it is not.  It is not telling the future.  Rather it is speaking and living the Truth, especially the Truth that is not being spoken by anyone else. 

The meaning of Christianity is God who transcends all reality, in perfection, in value, in power, who is totally beyond all our reality but holds it in his hand in a manner we can never really describe even remotely properly.  But this power and transcendent wonder breaking into our fragile world and our lives of its own choice and transforming it utterly beyond the ability we, part of that imperfect reality, have on our own.

This is the purpose and duty of prophets and prophetic witness everywhere, whether big or small, or famous or unknown.  And it applies to both the religious and non-religious, of any faith or none; both the brave, strong and outspoken, and the quiet, meek and calm; in both extraordinary and entirely ordinary situations and it can come upon a person suddenly, or it can come slowly, through through, study, prayer or experience, until it becomes so strong it just bursts forth. Because fundamentally it is not the property of one faith or tradition or community, rather it is our common human inheritance. 

I believe that this common inheritance is best described by the example and teaching of the man we know as Jesus Christ, so excuse me explaining it a bit further in those specific terms for a while. 

It is what Jesus Christ taught.  He taught that the Kingdom of God is at hand, the breaking into our world of the total power of God and its ability to transform our world beyond all recognition, and our ability to play a part in this transformation, through trusting in God’s power and moulding our lives by the incredible truth he taught.

This was the truth he taught, the possibility of utterly raising our sights beyond the compromises and justifications of a fallen world, like a single shaft of light shining suddenly into a dark room.  Of acting utterly differently, of bringing something of God’s perfection into the world and thus transforming it, at first for one instant and at one single point, but then more and more and spreading out, as the light fills the darkness, until the whole world shines more brightly. No longer resting content with hatred, of lies, excuses, of half-measures, cop-outs, justifications and fundamentally, imperfection.   

The revelation that no evil, however small, can be accepted forever; and that while we can improve ourselves at all we must do so, for any evil however small, a lack of care, of compassion, poisons the world we share and that we must always act to do more, to give better, to always improve the world and never add to its evil. The rejection of the idea that goodness is a matter of doing just enough to qualify, and then sitting back and being smug, however high that bar is set. And the knowledge that with God’s gift we have the capacity to make that choice to do better each and every day.

This is possible because through the example and teaching of Jesus Christ we are given a glimpse of a reality that comes from utterly beyond our world and from beyond our control, a true revealing of something completely new that thus enriches the possibilities our world as a miraculous, spontaneous creation.
       
This is the nature of prophetic witness.  Found in Jesus Christ and his teaching, but also in Prophets, Saints, Martyrs, visionaries, heroes and good men and women anywhere, in any moment, whether religious or not, that challenges the previously accepted limitations with the sight of a higher and better possibility, previously unconsidered, and thus changes and enriches the world.

I believe that it consists of constantly attempting to step outside our environment. But by this I mean something very specific. I do not mean escapism, seeking to run away from our reality. In fact, precisely the opposite.  I mean to be deeply rooted in your environment, to be acting in direct response to your environment, but to be seeing beyond its horizons and describing what you see, and how that can enrich the world. 

Christianity was born in Prophetic Witness, a challenge to the socially accepted standard of that period, and I believe if it is not such a witness, then it is inevitably nothing.  Such a witness is an unavoidable response to being in the world, but not of such a world. It can take many forms, and be of great and small sizes, but all share these basic elements: to be in a world and to try and see outside of it in such a manner as to be still be able to speak to it, by still being in a position to speak so it may hear you.  And it is also to step out of a world in such a manner as to drag it with you as you go, all for the purpose of taking it closer to God, the foundation of that truly is, the unity of all that is valuable, the one who is Love itself.  It is to be utterly concerned with man because one is utterly concerned with God.   

This may be in the most un-obvious and silent of ways as well, but it is unmistakably so. Some of it is taken in the modern phrase, to speak counter-culturally, or, in what is apparently a Quaker phrase, to speak truth to power.  But not just the holders of political or financial power, also the cultural, the moral and the social assumptions, whether those working in a single room or across an entire world.  It is open to anyone, just as the Prophets of ancient Israel were unremarkable men in every way apart from the fact they were willing to stand up and face rejection, ridicule and violence to speak the full word of God honestly, boldly, and defiantly, of his love and compassion for all and especially the weakest, to a society that just did not want to hear it.

Prophetic Witness, whatever our position, whatever our platform and possibilities, is to be a voice in the wilderness, one way or the other, to speak the words everyone else does not want to hear because it calls always to do better, to try harder and to be more loyal to our duty.  It is not to be puffed up with pride in doing so however, for there is more joy in heaven at one sinner who repents than at ten righteous men, but rather to humbly exhort and gently persuade, with patience and love, although this may sometimes be with anger and frustration as well. 

When true it often costs the prophet more than it gains him. It is something that has a place every time an accepted wisdom about the state of the world comes to the fore and it consists of challenging that wisdom by living or being or just speaking of another way. It is existential for such a person lives and is a different person to the world around him and as such is often challenged (physically) by that world, even as he challenges it morally.  Speech is important, because it leads the transmission of ideas, but it is only one part of a person’s expression, and hence only one part of prophetic witness, which is occurs with the whole of the human being.  As such a person’s actions, their choice of tone, their decisions, their attitude, may be prophetic as well.  So often we communicate most powerfully not through words, which are often cheap, but in the actions we take and choices we make that cost us.  It can be speech, action, attitude, thought, choice, song, liturgy, Art or anything else.  

Such a person can say something new and unheard of, maybe by only a little bit, but decisively so, or he can say something old, which is being forgotten, either way as long as he speaks distinctly to the voices around him. I for one become more and more convinced that not only is change not always for the good but that there is nothing more conservative than moral absolutes, although it is something that we speak about today mostly in the mealy-mouthed terms of social justice.  I prefer the 3000 years old language of Amos, "let justice flow like a river, and righteousness like a never failing stream" 

It is to look to a better world that does not yet exist and act as though it were both a right, with the certainty of a current reality, and a possible thing for our world today.  This can be constantly possible for us by acting with our hands in this world but keeping our sight and our inspiration not on this world but rather on the New Heaven and New Earth, on the vision of the Kingdom of God revealed by Jesus Christ and by the Scriptures and the visions and the sacraments and the Saints and the Martyrs and testified to by all the prophets of every kind who stand up in their heritage, whether consciously or not.    

Prophetic Witness then means presenting a better, challenging alternative to the conventional language of discussion around us, in whatever way, and whether through speech or through action or just the way we live our lives.  It is a constant challenge, one that constantly costs us and one we are called to, both to challenge the fallen society we live in with a little bit of God, but also, existentially, to stand aside from the prevailing discourse, however we must, and place our soul a little bit closer to God, for the purpose of bringing in his kingdom by being a bridge between it and our society and world. 

It means not taking the evil of the world as an excuse to do evil ourselves, but rather to place one’s feet not in the world as it is, that cannot last, but in the world that truly exists and remains forever unchanged, the world as it must be, as truth and goodness are the real Being.  It is of the closest and most real union with God that is possible in this life, and of the truest meaning of religion, for it is to become a mouthpiece for God's words that would not other be being spoken.  It is the possible choice of all people.   

It is something that we can and must do, and, I believe, uniquely through God we are capable of doing this, through his grace that gives us the power to step outside the world's totality and speak, for we have seen the New Heaven and the New Earth and the New Jerusalem and the Lamb is who is above them all “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of Grace and Truth”.

0 comments:

Post a Comment